Rajani was slowly getting to know and accept her new family barring Rekha, of course. Her FIL was the strong silent types, who kept pretty much to himself and didn’t interfere in family matters. So long as things were as he liked, he didn’t care what happened in the house.
Mornings he hogged up the newspaper and evenings the television. He was particularly fond of music shows and cricket. He had a strong aversion to wastage and any evidence of unnecessary expense would raise his blood pressure.
“The electricity bill was 109 Rs more than usual,” he would inform the switchboard as he flicked off an unnecessary light and reduced the speed of the fan. “There was a rotting tomato in the fridge. Do you know how expensive tomatoes are?” he would look reproachfully at the fridge.
From the grumblings and little things her MIL let fall from time to time, Rajani got the impression that her FIL was the stingy miserly types who grudged his wife every paisa that was spent. Yet he splurged on pomegranate juice in the morning and a bottle of the finest in the evening. Perhaps the rules were different for him After all he was head of the family.
We should eat to live not live to eat was his favorite quote and he made it a point to inform the chair, the showcase, or whoever was in his line of vision, at least once during dinner. Rajani who would have been about to take another serving would subside. But she was the only one affected. The others would tuck in with gusto including Harsha who now sported a distinct potbelly.
But the roundest of the lot was Rekha – even rounder than Bhabhi. She looked like an overinflated balloon. It was Rajani’s dearest wish, which was becoming increasingly irresistible, to prick her with a pin and watch her go down. Her fingers would twitch and she would giggle silently to herself.
But that was the only thing funny about her SIL. If Rajani was capable of hate it was her SIL. She was the most selfish and laziest person she had had the misfortune to meet her entire life, seethed Rajani. No wonder FIL complained about rising costs and escalating expenses – all of the SIL’s household goods were bought here and carted off to the Kumars including the monthly ration. Rajani chaffed at this uncalled for burden on the family in times of financial crunch.
She also couldn’t help wondering if her in-laws supported Didi’s family did they expect Abhi and her father to support them? Should she share about the Goel business losses with her parents? Or would they be offended? Would they think she was belittling them? What if Papa wanted to help and they took it the wrong way? No she couldn’t afford to rock the boat. Not now when things were just getting back on track. Unless they asked specifically, she wouldn’t say anything to her parents – what they didn’t know, they couldn’t be blamed for not rising to the occasion could they? But what if they were expecting financial support from her father?
Well they could jump off the cliff if they were! Why should Papa have to shoulder the burden of their mistakes?
Rajani wrestled with the tricky questions as their car sped towards the hospital. They had received news that Ritu had gone into labor.
“It’s a boy!” A cheer went up among the gathered well-wishers and family members. Rajani’s cheeks ached from smiling so much and she was beginning to feel sick as well. She had gorged on sweets like never before – but then she had never been an aunt before. She was well and truly an aunty – a real one this time.
She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
If only Mamma and Papa were here! But they were busy in some urgent business – what could be more urgent than their grandchild? She could see that even Bhai was put out. Anyone would be, she would be too. Rajani wondered if they were all right? Surely Bhabhi wasn’t right – her parents could never be so petty and mean as to deliberately stay away?
“Oh he’s so beautiful!” Rajani gasped as she peered over the Sister’s arm where the new arrival lay oblivious to the excitement.
“Here hold him,” the Sister offered the baby to Rajani but she backed off, “Oh no! I couldn’t, he’s so tiny. What if…”
“Nothing will happen,” the nurse said firmly, “go on now sit down and hold him like this,” She placed the bundle in her arms. Rajani sat still not daring to even breathe. What if she blew him away?
She stared in fascination at Sameer – a button nose, two tiny ears, pink lips that stretched and opened in a huge yawn, he squirmed and wormed his way into her heart. Harsha went down on his haunches to look at the baby.
Blown away by her emotions and desires, “I want a baby too!” she whispered to him.
Shocked, he stared at her, before moving away. She looked at him pleadingly uncaring of connotations or what it implied.
She wanted a baby, desperately.
She had to have one, hold her in her arms and just give her all the love that she had.
She cuddled Sameer, wishing he were hers, wishing she could take him with her. She hunted for Harsha with her eyes until she clashed with his in an all too brief but eloquent encounter before his eyes skidded away.
“Congratulations!” Days after the birth visitors continued to pour in to cuddle and bless the new arrival. Finally the paternal grandparents deigned to pay a visit and Rajani too met her parents after what seemed an eon.
“So late Mamma!” Rajani accused, holding the baby away from her mother, “he doesn’t want to meet you!” he gave a thin wail of protest. “He’s protesting his insult – how dare you come so many days after my birthday?”
“Sorry beta,” Nisha apologized profusely, taking her grandchild from her, “We came as soon as we could.”
“What was more important than your grandson?” Rajani asked.
“Your father had fever. He’s still not well. We didn’t want to worry you.” Rajani shot a half relieved half triumphant look at Ritu. But Ritu wore a skeptical expression.
“Give me my grandson!” Nisha held out her arms.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Rajani gently stroked his cheek.
Tears rolled down Nisha’s cheeks, “He looks exactly like Abhi doesn’t he?”
She looked at Suryakant, who too seemed to be struggling with powerful emotions.
Rajani bit her lip and looked away. If only she had a baby! She could make them happy too. Her arms ached with emptiness. A desperate yearning an unbearable restless racked her.
She had to have a baby.
She simply had to.
That night, overcoming all embarrassment, inhibitions and restrictions Rajani confronted Harsha. After switching off the lights.
“I want a baby.” Her voice was over loud in the darkness.
Harsha hissed in surprise and withdrew to the washroom.
He emerged after a long time only to find Rajani waiting for him. He flinched and looked as if he were going back in. Rajani stood up and held him by the arm. “I want a baby. Please?” She was glad of the welcome cloak of darkness.
He jerked his arm away but stood there.
She held her breath and waited.
“I…I also want…”
“Then why….” She hadn’t thought further than this.